Por Manuel Cereijo

A Cuban mole who operated at the highest levels of the Defense Intelligence Agency is likely to have helped Russia,China, Iraq, and North Korea obtain pilfered intelligence secrets.

DIA senior intelligence analyst Ana Belen Montes originally came under suspicion of being a spy for Cuba's communist government in 1994. However, DIA and FBI counterspies could not prove she was engaging in espionage and Montes continued passing secrets to Havana until she was discovered in late 1999.

It is considered one of the most damaging spy cases for the U.S. government because Montes had access to defense secrets and was able to influence U.S. policy.

Montes pleaded guilty to passing defense secrets to Cuba in March as part of a plea agreement. In October, 2002, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The damage caused by Montes' activities as a Cuban spy for 17 years is currently being investigated by the office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, an interagency counterintelligence program.

Cuba's government in the past had close ties to Russia's intelligence services and Moscow until recently operated a major electronic eavesdropping post at Lourdes, Cuba.

The Havana government also is developing closer ties to China's military and hosted several visits to Cuba by high-level Chinese generals. Chinese personnel have been working with Cuba at the Bejucal Electronic base since 1997.

The fact that she had access to virtually everything on Cuba is significant and a major concern to the United States.

Officials suspect that Cuba could have used the thousands of pages of DIA intelligence reports to barter for other goods and means of support from Russia and China.

Our concern would be what Cuba did with the information ... the fact that Cuba would have access to this information and presumably, if they thought it was worth anything to Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, or anybody else, would have no doubt passed it on.

Montes was placed under surveillance in late 1999 and at one point was selected to work for CIA Director George J. Tenet's National Intelligence Council. The DIA blocked Montes' move by freezing all transfers.

Her arrest was prompted by military planning for the U.S. campaign to topple Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. After September 11, somebody in her position would have been involved in a task force on Afghanistan targeting issues. The decision to arrest Montes was based on the idea that the Pentagon could not risk having a Cuban spy helping to pick bombing targets in Afghanistan.

To attempt to exclude her from that would have been unusual ... and probably tipped her off.

Montes represented a departure from other recent spies, such as KGB mole Aldrich Hazen Ames, a CIA officer who spied for Moscow, and FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen. Montes passed secrets to Cuba because she was ideologically motivated to support the communist government in Cuba.

During her sentencing hearing in October, Montes said U.S. policy toward Cuba is "cruel and unfair" and that she felt "morally obligated" to spy for the communist regime.

Montes was arrested in October 2001 and had been under surveillance for more than a year. She came under suspicion after counterspies detected "anomalies" in intelligence reports from overseas indicating U.S. intelligence information had been leaking out.

One unusual incident that led U.S. counterspies to Montes was her uninvited appearance at an interagency intelligence meeting. "Her presence there seemed unusual.

A DIA analyst talked to FBI counterspies about the incident and the FBI eventually was able to zero in on Montes as the suspected source for information going to Cuba.

Montes also had contacts with White House national security officials involved on issues regarding Cuba, an area where she would be able to influence U.S. policy toward the communist island, the senior official said.

The damage assessment of the case is also looking at some of the hundreds of reports produced by Montes during her 15 years at DIA to determine whether she supplied "disinformation."

DIA analysis of Cuban issues for years has been described by agency officials as biased toward portraying Cuba as nonthreatening to the United States.

Every product she was involved in authoring is being looked at to see if there is any indication she was slanting her reports.

Montes, who underwent extensive debriefing by U.S. intelligence analysts as part of the plea agreement, has said she did not slant her reporting.

Montes had numerous Cuban handlers who met with her both in the United States and abroad for exchanges of intelligence information.

She would meet with the handlers every few months, but the meetings were less frequent after the arrest in 1998 of a group of Cuban agents in Florida.

Montes traveled to Cuba twice, once as an employee of the Justice Department and once unofficially for the DIA.

Montes also said during debriefings that she was cautious in avoiding suspicion and thus provided few clues that would cause counterintelligence officers to suspect her of being a spy.

Somebody that was as good as she was at what she did is always a concern.

The usual indicators - unexplained affluence, money problems or criminal behavior - were not present in the Montes case.

The mechanisms that are available to us as counterintelligence and security professionals are relatively limited, unless something pops up which allows us to focus on an individual.

Montes' value to Cuban intelligence was in providing detailed information on U.S. military secrets. It would appear that because of her position, she could tell the Cuban government what we know about their military, what we knew about their positions, and perhaps even more important, what we didn't know, whatever the gaps might be.


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